Wednesday, February 28, 2024 -
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The unexpected Miami Boys mania

Could we please discuss how insane and utterly hilarious the explosive Miami Boys Choir (MBC) situation is? I am pinching myself, as I am left astonished seeing MBC’s “Yerushalayim” song gone viral all over TikTok.

Never mind that I barely knew what TikTok was, and was definitely not a subscriber. At this point, though, I admit to succumbing to the MBC rabbit hole.

Initially, when I heard a few weeks ago about MBC on Tik Tok, I was amused. But I didn’t fully get it. Oh, how that situation has changed! MBC is vibing internationally, and I am here for the nostalgia.

This is definitely a unique moment in Jewish music, and I am riding the wave enjoying this unlikely obsession with our music.

I’m just amazed how leading up to Rosh Hashanah and now in the holiest days of our Jewish calendar year, non-affiliated Jews as well as non-Jews all over the world are basically singing in Ashkenazi-accented heimish Hebrew verses from Tehillim — Psalms — highlighting the Jewish people’s inextricable link with Jerusalem and expressing our covenant and faith in G-d. “As the mountains encircle and enfold Jerusalem, so does G-d encircle and enfold the Jewish people,” as the lyrics sing. What energy to start off 5783.
No politics. No militancy. No agenda. Just organically flowing passion and love for Jerusalem, G-d and Judaism, out of the charmingly innocent souls and mouths of our community’s youth, singing about Jerusalem and about G-d’s protection of the Jewish people via a simile centering around Jerusalem.

In a world where the internet is filled with schmutz or crazy bitter confessionals or narcissistic self-absorbed tirades or shallow influencers, what a breath of fresh air to see such wholesome sweet innocence go viral — adorable yeshiva kids singing with earnestness verses from Tanach, the Hebrew Bible.

It makes you wonder, in a world where children are being raised with so much confusion and exposure to degrading material, how it’s something as innocent as yeshiva kids singing Bible verses that has touched a nerve in millions of tweens, teens and twenty-somethings. Perhaps it’s a message that kids are thirsty for more than what our society is infantilizing or corrupting them with.

But never mind the preachiness. Let’s face it. The real reason for this popularity might be simpler than that. Jewish music is simply great. MBC pop music is catchy, fantastic and truly inspiring.

I personally was always a choir girl. Ever since elementary school, middle school and summer camp, to high school and my gap year in Israel and beyond, singing or choirs were a huge part of who I was. I was lucky enough to consistently capture solos and duets in the various choirs I was a part of. Practicing my lines and belting out the music was a strong feature of my childhood and young adulthood.

Even if at times I might have been somewhat shy in other contexts or scared (of heights!), somehow when it came to singing publicly on stage, nary a fluttering butterfly was in sight. When it came to singing, it just flowed out of me. No stage fright or anything.

Also, as a kid, I moved around a lot. Some of my solos were in brand new communities and schools, where I barely knew a soul yet was still making friends. But when it came to singing, my sense of alienation lifted, and as my lips opened into an oval releasing my voice in song, I was home.

No matter where I was or moved to, singing was one of the anchors of my childhood.

So maybe it’s my choir background that has had me feeling a kindred connection and enthralled with watching the vintage MBC clips, feeling like I have reverted to teenhood for a day. Although, clearly their appeal is, to everyone’s great surprise, pretty universal!

It’s amazing to watch the world discover something you grew up with and had an abiding affection for, only to be found by the rest of the world. We knew the joy of this secret long ago.

There is comedy in seeing your niche become mainstream, with people raving about a discovery they just made, when it’s your beloved Jewish soundtrack.

I can’t count how many wedding chuppahs I was at where MBC’s “Mehairah” was the musical accompaniment, never mind how many times as a young teen I belted out at the top of my lungs MBC’s smash hits of the 1980s, “B’Siyata D’Shmaya,” “Ana B’Koach” from Friday night Shabbat prayers and other great hits. Many years later I fell in love with MBC’s “Esa Einai” — “I lift my eyes to the mountains,” another verse from Psalms.

The fact is that Jewish music is powerful. It’s more than music. When we sing our heart out, those verses crooning from the depths of our souls are forms of prayers. These songs in the Jewish pop music genre are imbued with what we call kavannah, deep intention. There’s a limit to how much kids can be trained to perform with such a depth of emotion.

The power of MBC — and other choirs in the Jewish community of that genre — is the emotion, kavannah and ruach (spirit) they are sung with. On some level it’s a culmination of the immersion of living in a community defined by daily, mindful prayers laced with profound longing, sometimes alienation, often reflection, always G-dliness and hope.

In a sense, what has gone viral transcends MBC; it is as if what has gone viral is kavannah, prayer, Jewish ruach and Jewish joy — it’s all gone viral for the world to glimpse and taste.

The comments I have read on some of these clips are nothing short of astounding. The reaction and connectivity people feel with the emotion of the songs, is mind-boggling. They often don’t even understand the lyrics, yet their souls have been moved.

Forget governments, diplomacy or politics. It seems what the world needs more of is unifying, authentic, elevating Jewish music.

Certainly the skilled MBC, led by the talented Yerachmiel Begun, knows how to deliver these Jewish emotions packaged in quality pop music.

The compositions, the musical arrangements, the stunning three-part harmonies we are accustomed to hearing in many of these songs, the hallmark style of starting mellow and low for a first half of a song or verse before it goes high, and the switching of keys for musical intensification, are all part and parcel of this fun and moving music.

Even before I moved from Israel to the US and heard of MBC, for me there was the London Pirchei Choir and the London School of Jewish Song. Many of those songs are pure magic.

When I hear London Pirchei it transports me to my Jerusalem girlhood, to post-Shabbat nights after Havdalah, as I sat by the record player, hearing the beautiful songs and voices of the choir boys fill the room and, in turn, fill me with calm, with emotion, with joy. Those were the days!

Many of their melodies have become integral to the Days of Awe prayers. To this day, leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, those are the songs I listen to again and again, as a way of immersing myself in the rhythms of the season.

The truth is there are so many soul-stirring musical artists who make the Biblical verses fly with the flair of Jewish neshama, soul. These are songs you sing that you feel in your bones. The depth of Jewish emotion is transformative. That affect is what I saw in the many comments.

People don’t know what hit them. I saw some joke they no longer need their meds. Others beg for a reunion of the MBC soloists, with a sense of desperation. People are obsessed. And people out there have such great sense of humor. Some of the duet videos had me rolling.

The MBC soloists in the famous “Yerushalayim” clip that has gone viral are being ranked in the style of reality shows such as The Voice. The musical analysis is TikTok style-brief, but I have to admit, at times also illuminating.

The commentary reads like that of live blow-by-blow sports commentators analyzing every nuance and move of sports games and sports players.

The debates about the favorite soloists and who the GOATs among these kids are, are so personal that it’s really interesting to see which of the soloists they are invested in, and why. I’ve learned a whole new TikTok lexicon: ate, banger, bias, slapping, and the portmanteau: stan, for stalking-fan.

More than that, though, what I have learned from witnessing this viral phenomenon is something I have always known; and that is that while the trends of social media such as TikTok may come and go, our Jewish music is forever music. The Tehillim, the Psalms, that are being sung will always be there to enfold and encircle us, just like the mountains that enfold and encircle Yerushalayim, our forever sacred city.

Copyright © 2022 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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